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Book of the Month: And our Geek Lit winner is... BAD SCIENCE by Ben Goldacre (discussion night Tue 30 March)

(121 Posts)
TillyBookClub Mon 01-Mar-10 11:56:29

BAD SCIENCE by Ben Goldacre has grabbed the winning title of March Book of the Month with a staggering 50 votes, streaks ahead of his competitors.

We will get together to chat about the book on Tuesday 30 March, 8-9.30pm.

For those that missed it, here were the choices and the March poll results.

And for anyone new to Bookclub, here is how it works.

I'm hoping Ben may be able to join us to answer all your questions - will keep you posted.

bruxeur Sat 20-Mar-10 18:27:28

What a useful contribution to the thread!

Thank you bonbon.

probonbon Sun 21-Mar-10 02:32:02

It was requested, Bruxeur -- glad you like it smile

Pengimum Sun 21-Mar-10 10:06:49

Ben Goldacre is great - but he does make me feel foolish and uncomfortable as I had embraced fully the whole homeopath, fish oli 'n' vits and beauty product thing.....i have given up on homeopaths but cant let go of the vits, 'n' fish oil and i really will need some convincing to give Dr Hauschka (sod it even if it makes no difference it feels nice). ps where is the stuff about the MN fishoil trial thing pl?

thehairybabysmum Mon 22-Mar-10 08:34:40

Im half way through this book now and have just seen this, not done bookclub before either.

Agree witht the above poster that he has so far made me feel a bit daft about the fish oils as i am supposed to be a scientist myself blush.

Disclaimer though....i've only given them to ds's a couple of times as they smell/taste rank!!

ZephirineDrouhin Mon 22-Mar-10 10:27:25

I think Ben Goldacre is brilliant at exposing the way that the press misleads through poor reporting on scientific issues.

However, as far as his views on vaccination go, I have never seen anything from him that is as detailed or convincing as the posts by saintlydamemrsturnip, who appears to have rather more expertise in this particular area. (I notice that even one of the posters from the bad science forum has acknowledged that she is interesting and well informed.) Would love to see a webchat on this subject just between the two of them actually, but I don't suppose he would ever agree to it.

By the way, the Durham fish oil trial might have been very poorly conducted, but that is not at all the same as saying that there is no benefit to taking fish oil supplements, is it? More plausible sounding study here

LadyBlaBlah Mon 22-Mar-10 11:35:49

I really enjoyed the book too, however I am skeptical about encouraging blind faith in what he classes as 'good science'. From the research I have done and analysed, I would say a lot of research could be classed as bad science, despite its publication in what are considered respectable academic journals. As far as I know, most if not all, research has flaws and may have been subjected to manipulation of data in some way, and just because it is reported correctly in the media does not mean it is infallible.

It is not as simple as he makes out. Good reporting of statistics does not necessarily mean good science.

He contributes to the illusion that science has all the answers, when it clearly doesn't.

narmada Mon 22-Mar-10 13:16:44

I don't agree ladyblablah. I think Goldacre is himself skeptical about much scientific research. At least that was my reading.

And I'm a humanities graduate, natch wink

Donbon Mon 22-Mar-10 21:09:20

Coincidentally, I got this boook for Christmas from my Dad. It's still sitting on my bedside table, mostly unread (with a pile of other books). Perhaps I should prioritise in the next week so I can join in!

probonbon Tue 23-Mar-10 07:37:44

I agree with Zephrine: and for me his views on vaccination are rather a deal-breaker. He doesn't seem interested in some of the research that has been carried out and continues to be carried out. I won't be able to join in the discussion because I haven't read the book: just his articles online, the blog and so on. It's his attitude towards the parents of vaccine damaged children and the evidence they present which is a deal breaker for me.

For example, there is a man called Henry Bauer who calls Goldacre a "scientific illiterate": saying "scientific literates know that if a mainstream consensus is challenged by competent people, one then needs to burrow fairly deeply into the actual evidence before reaching an eventual judgment about where the best case probably lies, with the mainstream or with the challengers."

This makes a lot of sense: and it comes from a man who gained his Phd in Sydney and is an emeritus professor of chemistry and science studies, and emeritus dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.

However, Henry Bauer believes in the Loch Ness Monster. It's a deal breaker. Same for me with Goldacre and vaccination: he is so convinced of his own self-righteousness, at the expense of a great deal of solid evidence, that it throws everything else into question for me.

I like the way he challenges pharmaceutical companies, I like his insistence on sound science: but his love of "exposure" and ridicule leads him astray.

LadyBlaBlah Tue 23-Mar-10 11:46:08

Narmada - I think, as probonbon has precisely stated, he is so emphatic about exposures, that he actually does not critically analyse the science he claims to be 'good science'. I believe there is much to be said for questioning of research, period. Advanced statistical methods, for example, are not exact but are more open to interpretation by the researcher, thus leaving room for researchers to find what they want to find. And imo, this is rife in much research, but Goldacre does not question the research he wants to represent, making him, imo, as open to criticism as the science he criticises.

I do, however, like his stuff about the way the media reports statistics and the general's just he doesn't always practice what he preaches imo.

evilgiraffe Sat 27-Mar-10 05:50:07

"I do, however, like his stuff about the way the media reports statistics and the general's just he doesn't always practice what he preaches imo."

I think that's fair. I read the book some time ago and thought it rather lost its way as it went on. It was quite entertaining in places though, and highly amusing in the homeopathy section and wherever it is he talks about ear candles.

The media in general just don't seem to understand the majority of scientific findings, or even the language. Add that to the misconceptions held by the general public, and a lack of understanding what is in the media (whether the science is reported accurately or not) and it's a recipe for confusion. Not sure what can be done about it, though - most science graduates aren't interested in becoming journalists, and you can't expect all journalists to have a good understanding of what are often very complex scientific theories and findings.

TillyBookClub Mon 29-Mar-10 11:35:11

Just a reminder that we'll be discussing the book tomorrow at 8-9.30pm. Sadly we haven't heard from Ben so I don't think he'll be able to join us. But all the more time for debating the weird and wonderful placebo effect (my question: does it still work if you're giving it to children? Does the fact that they aren't actively choosing to take it make a difference?)

See you tomorrow

meltedmarsbars Mon 29-Mar-10 22:42:16

TillyBookClub: Placebo effect also works on animals, dontchaknow!


Haven't you read the book?

Pofacedagain Tue 30-Mar-10 12:02:27

A debate between SaintlyDameMrsTurnip and Ben Goldacre? I'd pay good money. Good, good money.

Katz Tue 30-Mar-10 12:42:34

i'm reading this at the mo and i work in the field of research - i've just finished the chapter of AIDS and was gobsmacked . I shall try and pop in tonight.

probonbon Tue 30-Mar-10 12:52:19

I think I would bet good money on that debate Pofaced.

I wonder why he's not bothering with us?

We're too small, possibly. But I wonder if he sneers.

I'm sure he will be sneering graciously amid all the fawning.

BecauseImWoeufIt Tue 30-Mar-10 17:10:43

Gah!! Bought the book but have only had time to read the first couple of chapters.

I might pop in later...

TillyBookClub Tue 30-Mar-10 19:59:06

Hi all
Shame not to have Ben with us, but quite refreshing to have the floor to ourselves for a change. Especially when the author and subject have generated such a lot of feeling...

First off, I loved reading a challenging, thoughtful book about science - it was exciting to push my brain in that direction (out of the comfy bed of fiction where it usually sprawls about). And I hugely enjoyed the debunking of MindGym, homeopathy, Jessica Alba's sexy walk, etc etc


evilgiraffe and Ladyblahblah: I agree that Ben fails to evaluate the research or anecdotes or examples that he uses to prove his point, whilst slamming the research he doesn't like. I noticed that more and more as the book went on. It made me feel the book was more subjective than it should be.

From there, I also noticed how I had to take his word for it, because I'm so woefully lacking in scientific education myself. This is part of his point, that many people accept the media's version due to scientific ignorance. But I wouldn't I be just as guilty of slavishly believing his version, unless I went through all the stats and research myself?

meltedmarsbars: I've read it, but cannot figure out it he ever describes how the placebo effect works on children/animals. He seems to make out that when its an adult human taking one, it is their belief in the concept of a pill (and its colours, branding and all of that). A one year old can't have a belief in a pill as they've never taken one before, so how does the placebo effect work there?

StewieGriffinsMom Tue 30-Mar-10 20:10:22

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WidowWadman Tue 30-Mar-10 20:12:28

TillyBookClub - he explains how the placebo effect in these circumstances very well, namely that it a) works on the adult who's administering it through their expectations and b) the children/animals are reacting to the behaviour of the adult administering the placebo. I suppose you ought to read the chapter again.

DutchOma Tue 30-Mar-10 20:24:03

AIBU to think that the discussion would have been more lively if Dr Goldacre had been there to answer questions?

StewieGriffinsMom Tue 30-Mar-10 20:29:56

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DutchOma Tue 30-Mar-10 20:31:16


StewieGriffinsMom Tue 30-Mar-10 20:32:20

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SuziKettles Tue 30-Mar-10 20:32:31

To be fair to BG (re: not evaluating the research he uses to back up his arguments), he does reference his chapters pretty thoroughly, and the whole point of the book is about empowering you to follow up claims and have the knowledge to identify bad research.

One of his biggest bugbears appears to be the lack of references to the original research in popular science reporting.

Having said that, not many people are likely to be arsed to follow up the refs.

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